How Much Can a Professional Tenant Cost You?
And this doesn’t even count things like your hair, or sanity, or nights’ sleep.
In our last post, we mentioned in passing the notion of the ‘professional tenant,’ and we wanted to expand on that a little bit because we didn’t really have room to do the concept justice. So let’s talk about what a ‘professional tenant’ is and how to fight one.
Professional Tenancy: It’s About Time
The first thing to recognize about a professional tenant is that it’s not about beating you (the landlord) in court — most professional tenants realize that they can’t win against an even modestly-prepared landlord with a decent attorney. But they’re not playing that game; they don’t care about winning at all. They’re playing to delay the game. Imagine this sequence of events:
- (Day 6) A tenant’s grace period ends and they still haven’t paid rent. So, you call and they promise to send a check right away. You don’t file a 7 Day Eviction Notice.
- (Day 9) You get a post-dated check and call the tenant about it. They claim their employer shorted them on hours on their last check, but is making up for it on their next pay date this coming Friday, so that’s when there will be money to cover the check.
- (Day 15) You deposit their check on the date they said it clear.
- (Day 24) Because you’re busy with your day job and family, it’s over a week before you notice the tenant’s check bounced. You call and they come up with their next excuse, but you decide not to believe it and send a 7 Day Eviction Notice.
- (Day 27) The tenant calls in disbelief that you sent them an eviction notice. They start complaining about repair issues and ask you to take care of them.
- (Day 34) You’ve fixed the repair issues and they give you another check for rent and say thank you.
- (Day 38) Because of their last bounce you nervously monitor this last deposit and sure enough, you get the dreaded NSF notice online.
- (Day 39) You file the 7 Day Eviction Notice with the court.
- (Day 50) You get court response with court date in 10 days.
- (Day 60) In court tenant claims you haven’t made any repairs and shows judge pics of the repair issues. You didn’t document the repairs you already made for them so the judge adjourns the case for two weeks telling you to make the repairs.
- (Day 74) After making the repairs again (how did the home get damaged again?), you’re back in court with your proof, but tenant sends someone with a doctor’s note stating they can’t travel. So, judge adjourns for two weeks.
- (Day 94) In court again and now tenant is claiming they made a payment you’re not crediting them for. Judge adjourns for another two weeks as you only brought your handwritten notes, not a professional looking ledger.
- (Day 108) You’ve finally got everything you should have had on the first court date, but now tenant has just engaged the court recommend nonprofit attorney who is asking for an adjournment so they can get all the facts from their client. Judge adjourns for another two weeks.
- (Day 122) Back in court again (how many times is this now?) Tenant’s free attorney informs judge their client has filed for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, so judge cancels case as Bankruptcy Trustee is now in charge.
- Need we continue?
…Because all of this was just over whether or not you had the right to evict them. The tenant has now been living in your property rent-free for several months, and you still haven’t gotten the court order that actually lets you kick them out. Just wait until you get to your property with the bailiff to remove the tenant and you find out that they’re long-gone and they trashed the place — possibly stripped it. And only then learn that they applied under a fake name and you have no way to track them down and get any of your money back!
Now, granted, this level of professional-tenant-ism is rare, even among professional tenants — but just imagine all those court costs and lawyer’s fees, all that lost rent, and all of the ulcers and sleepless nights that one single tenant just cost you. Now, go back and look over your tenant screening procedures with a fine-toothed comb and hope this never happens to you.